MLA (and friend) Jackie Tegart’s opinion piece on proportional representation (The Journal, November 9, 2017) is a useful contribution to an essential province-wide debate.
I agree with Jackie that our democratic system should be “built upon the idea that everyone’s voice is equal.” But our current system does not meet this test; it generally results in majority governments elected by a minority of voters.
Jackie’s colleague Andrew Wilkinson complains that the 1996 B.C. election was “stolen” because the NDP got 39 seats with 40 per cent of the votes, and the Liberals, with 42 per cent of the votes, got only 33 seats. In the next election in 2001, the Liberals proposed electoral reform in their campaign. They got 57 per cent of the vote and 97 per cent of the seats (no complaints from Andrew about that one). The last Canadian majority government with a majority of votes was in 1984. That’s first-past-the-post for you: far from “everyone’s voice is equal”.
Jackie says “The 2.8 million people living in the Lower Mainland would have a disproportionate amount of representation and control over the entire province.” There is no basis at all for this statement. Our current system makes up for this by providing for fewer voters per MLA in rural regions (for instance, Jackie was elected by 6,597 voters here in Fraser-Nicola, while it took 14,101 votes to elect her colleague Tracey Redies in Surrey-White Rock). A PR system would have similar adjustments.
Jackie is right that “PR systems often lead to smaller parties and encourage coalition governments.” PR is designed to do just that: to ensure that smaller voices get heard. That is why some form of PR is used by 29 of the world’s 35 major democracies. But to suggest that this means that “government will likely grind to an indefinite gridlock with no one at the helm” is absurd. How about Germany? Japan? Norway? Australia? And what about the gridlock for the last nine years in the good old first-past-the-post USA?
Jackie is right as well that the form of question is critical. The 2005 referendum (on a relatively complicated form of PR) was approved by 57 per cent of the popular vote across the province (the same percentage of the vote that had elected a government with 97 per cent of the seats), with majority support in 77 of 79 ridings. In 2009, a deliberately ambiguous and confusing question was designed by the Liberal cabinet, and got only 39 per cent support. We must insist that the ballot question in this case is completely clear, that the facts on all sides are readily available, and that we have ample opportunity for debate.
Finally, along with Jackie, “I encourage you all to watch for further information, as this is a vote that could change B.C. forever.” This is about the future of our democracy, after all. We should all be engaged. To that end, I volunteer to have a public discussion with Jackie on this most important topic, to be held here in Ashcroft, the time and place to be at our busy MLA’s convenience.